A ringing phone is music to the ears of any small business owner — unless those calls are not answered in a timely manner. In many cases, the first contact prospective customers attempt to make with a business is by telephone. Therefore, efficient phone service is essential for making a positive initial impression. On the contrary, poor service or unanswered calls can result in missed opportunities that lead to lost sales.
Just how significant is reliable phone service to the success of a small business? As many as 85% of callers who do not get an answer will not call back1 — they’ll simply move on to one of your rivals. In an economic climate where competition for every customer is fierce, this can place you at a major disadvantage. And even if you have a standard voicemail system, it won’t solve the problem of unanswered phone calls. Up to 75% of callers will not leave a voicemail message1.
These days, most small businesses do offer a number of additional contact options, such as email and live chats. The problem with these methods is that they do not offer the same level of personalized service that many customers desire. While these tools can be extremely valuable for supplementing your telephone service, they’re not the communication option of choice for most people.
Up to 80% of incoming customer communication occurs by phone, while methods such as email and chat account for only around 20%2.
What About Hiring Additional Staff to Handle Incoming Calls?
One way to provide better phone service to your customers is to increase your staff. But if yours is like many small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMBs), this represents an additional expense you simply cannot afford. There’s no guarantee the extra revenue that might be generated by bringing someone else on board to handle calls would offset the expense. And what about the calls that come in after normal business hours or on weekends? There still wouldn’t be anybody around to take those.
Turning to an Answering Service to Handle Your Incoming Phone Calls
Small business answering services can provide the solution that SMBs need to provide reliable phone service to their customers and prospects. Small business phone answering services offer a number of important benefits, including:
- No More Missed Calls: Having a 24/7 answering service for a small business ensures you will never miss a customer call, which will increase your revenues and provide better service to your existing customer base.
- Prompt Answering of Phone Calls: When you’re busy, you may not be able to answer calls on the first or second ring, which can be aggravating to your callers. A small business answering service can handle calls quickly and efficiently.
- Cheaper Than Hiring Staff: Implementing some sort of answering service is typically much less expensive than hiring new employees.
- Increases Staff Productivity: Is your staff spending too much time on the phone? Having an answering system in place can allow your team to focus on more productive activities. Small businesses that implement some type of phone answering serving can experience up to a 50% increase in productivity2.
- Creates a Professional Image: A competent answering service can give your company a professional image by creating a favorable first impression for callers. It can also make a small one- or two-person operation seem much larger in scope.
- Prevents Minor Issues From Escalating: When customers call with a problem, they usually want immediate results. An answering service can get in touch with you at any time of day or night if there’s an issue that needs immediate attention. This can enhance your ability to retain customers.
Small businesses that implement some type of phone answering service can experience up to a 50% increase in productivity.
Types of Answering Services
There are many types of phone answering services available to small business owners:
- Live Small Business Phone Answering Services: Smaller businesses often turn to live answering services to handle certain types of calls. Think of a physician who employs an answering service to take emergency after-hours calls from patients. A live answering service can also perform functions such as taking orders, scheduling appointments, taking messages or responding to general questions about the business and its products/services. Because of their general nature, live answering services may often represent companies in a wide variety of industries.
- Call Centers: A third-party call center is a type of live answering service that is usually a large operation staffed by individuals who handle calls for several companies. A call center can provide a cost-effective answering service solution for businesses that receive a high volume of incoming calls. Some businesses use call centers on a seasonal basis, such as an e-commerce company that experiences a spike in orders during the Christmas season. Call centers can also work well for businesses where callers are required to spend a significant amount of time on the phone. Unlike live answering services that are general in scope, call centers tend to be more specialized and represent several companies in the same or related industries.
- Automated Answering Services: When customers call an automated answering service, they are typically greeted by a recorded message instead of a live individual. They then listen to a menu of options, such as choosing a specific extension or learning more about a particular service, and press a number on the keypad to be routed to the appropriate extension. Some automated answering services also provide the option to speak to a customer service representative if the caller prefers.
- Internet Answering Services: These days, many companies do much, if not all, of their business online. An Internet answering service is a specialized solution for e-commerce/Web-only businesses that provides customers with a convenient means of engaging in live online chats with service representatives instead of having to make telephone calls. Customers can make inquiries or ask for assistance while entering an order into the online ordering system.
Disadvantages of Live Answering Services
A logical assumption is that a live answering service would be the most appropriate solution for the majority of businesses. Customers have the opportunity to speak to a real human being instead of a machine, which, in theory, would lead to the highest level of service. However, finding an effective and reliable live answering service can be a challenge, and you might not get the results you expect. Here are some disadvantages of hiring a live answering service:
- Operator Indifference: Remember, live answering services are not employees of your company. They’re likely answering calls for several companies at once. Consequently, they may not be as motivated to provide superior customer service as a member of your own staff would be. This could lead to an attitude of indifference that comes across loudly and clearly to your callers. They may feel that they’re being treated as a “number” instead of a valued customer. And even the most helpful, friendly operators can have a bad day and fail to treat your customers with the courtesy and respect they deserve.
- Substandard Operator Hiring Practices: With a live answering service, you have no control over the company’s hiring practices. Most companies will claim to bring on only high-quality, experienced individuals, but how do you really know for sure? And in the case of call centers, they often use overseas operators as a cost-cutting measure. Many of these operators speak English as a second language and may have heavy accents that make it difficult for your callers to understand them. It’s important to do some homework when considering any live answering service.
- Lack of Business/Industry Focus: As mentioned previously, many answering services handle calls for several companies at once. This means that operators may not be as focused on your company as you would like. It’s also possible that the company’s training methods are inadequate and operators may not be as well-versed on your company’s products and services as you’d like. And it can be difficult for operators to stay up-to-date on the changes that occur in one company, let alone six or seven — or more. Even if the answering service focuses on one specific industry, it can still be a challenge to adequately serve the needs of several companies at once.
- Phone Coverage Issues: Staffing issues can mean that your callers will receive poor service, causing them to take their business elsewhere. Because of the low pay and often stressful working conditions, the turnover and absenteeism for many of these services are high. You’ll also need to be sure that the company has a sufficient contingency plan in place to provide adequate phone coverage in the event of an emergency or disaster, which is when your company may experience a call volume spike.
- Cost: While hiring a third-party answering service is typically more cost-effective than hiring in-house staff members to answer calls, it can still represent a substantial expense for a small business. Services generally charge by one of two methods: by the minute or by the number of calls handled within a specific time frame, typically a month. To get an idea of how much a live phone service will actually cost your business, you’ll need to check your phone logs or review previous billing information from your phone system provider.As with most things in life, when it comes to the quality of a live answering service, you get what you pay for. A phone service that charges you 20 cents per minute may seem like a much better value than one that costs a dollar per minute. However, the former is likely to be a much smaller operation than the latter. As a result, the quality of service provided to your customers may be substandard. Your callers may have to wait longer until the call is answered or remain on hold for an extended period of time. In contrast, a larger company may provide more reliable service, but might be cost-prohibitive to many smaller businesses.
Alternatives to Live Answering Services for Small Businesses
The good news is that cost-effective alternatives to live answering services are available that will deliver the superior telephone service your customers demand. A high-quality virtual phone system can save your company a substantial amount of money and, in many cases, can be integrated with your existing phone/office systems without the need to purchase additional hardware or expensive equipment.
Virtual Phone Systems From AccessDirect
Small businesses throughout the United States are turning to the small business phone answering services offered by AccessDirect as a more cost-effective, customer-friendly alternative to live answering services. In addition to being less expensive than the typical live service, a virtual AccessDirect system offers a number of key features:
- Professional Greeting: All callers receive a professionally recorded greeting that adds credibility to your small business and ensures that no phone call goes unanswered. We’ll work with you to develop a customized script that conveys the right message for your business. We’ll also help you select from a wide range of greeting options.
- Auto Attendant: The Auto Attendant serves as your own highly competent virtual receptionist. Instead of having to wait forever for someone to answer the phone or being immediately placed on hold, your callers are guided through a series of easy-to-follow menu options that you select. This ensures they can reach the right party in a fast and hassle-free manner. The Auto Attendant will significantly improve the level of customer service — and satisfaction.
- Voicemail to Email: If you’ve ever worked with a live answering service in the past, you may have discovered that messages from callers weren’t always delivered to you in a timely manner, and important details are often “lost in translation.” The Voicemail-to-Email feature allows callers to leave a direct message that is then delivered right to your email inbox. What’s more, you’ll receive instant notification of a new message via email attachment that you can listen to at your convenience.
- Find-Me/Follow-Me: With the Find-Me/Follow-Me feature, you don’t have to worry about a live answering service operator having to track you down in the event of an important phone call. Your callers can “find you” at any time of day or night, which means you will never miss a critical call from a key customer or prospect again. The “Follow-Me” aspect allows you to have an incoming call automatically routed through a series of numbers such as office, home or cell so you can be reached wherever you are.
Why Choose the Small Business Phone Answering Services From AccessDirect?
In addition to being a cheaper and more reliable alternative than live answering services, our system provides our customers with superior support. Our upfront consulting services will help you select, customize and implement the right features for your business — we won’t try to sell you features and services you don’t need. You don’t have to purchase any additional equipment or pay a costly set-up fee. You’ll also receive prompt and dependable phone support long after the sale. Our customer support is personal and specific. You’ll always speak to the same individual whenever you call back about an issue.
We Invite You to Compare and Save on Your Small Business Phone Service
We encourage you to compare our phone service prices with those of a live answering service — you’ll be amazed at how money we can save your small business. And feel free to contact us to learn more about our wide range of cost-effective answering services for small businesses.
- “Is voicemail costing your company business?” Halycon Offices. Halyconoffices.com, 3 July 2017. Web. 7 Dec 2017.
- “How much are missed telephone calls costing your business? – Infographic” Answer-4U. Answer-4u.com. 6 Aug 2014. Web. 7 Dec 2017.